The NBA has an impressive investment footprint with the opening of an elite centre in Senegal last year, several training camps for young players as part of the Basketball without Borders program since 2001 and hosting an annual exhibition game in Africa since 2015.

Houston Rockets and Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon (L) and NY Knicks’ Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA finals
Houston Rockets and Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon (L) and NY Knicks’ Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA finals
Image: AP Photo

Many professional players of African descent including hall of famers two-time Houston Rockets champion Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria and indomitable one-time finalist Dikembe Mutombo of DR Congo have been involved in the NBA’s African outreach. Current players such as Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, Cameroon’s Joel Embiid, DRC’s Bismack Biyombo, and South Sudan’s Luol Deng have also had a hand in building the NBA’s African brand at a grassroots level.

In contrast to the steady pool of African soccer players lending their services to European countries or leaving in droves for greener pastures overseas because of the game’s mismanagement on the continent, the NBA has focussed on developing local talent with the long view that they will play professionally in the new league and later in North America.

With the continent’s fast-growing middle-class and young demographics, a league like the NBA will be looking to build the sports popularity as an entertainment brand.  However it would do well to get close to Africa’s love of soccer anytime soon.

With some of the rising stars of African origins starring in the NBA’s All-Star spectacle this weekend, the game is set to expand and expand to a new African audience and generation of players in the coming years.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Hamidou Diallou, whose parents are Guinean migrants, emphatically winning this weekend’s slam dunk competition with a spectacular rim rocking dunk jumping over 7 foot legend Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t have come at a better time with the focus on Africa.

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